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Shock as Tom Elliott ends 14 years of Sinn Fein rule

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 09/05/2015

Tom Elliott of the Ulster Unionist Party celebrates with party members including leader Mike Nesbitt after taking the seat from Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew
Tom Elliott of the Ulster Unionist Party celebrates with party members including leader Mike Nesbitt after taking the seat from Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew

A pat on the back and a punch of the air signalled the end of 14 years of Sinn Fein rule in Fermanagh/South Tyrone.

It was shortly after 5am when a beaming Tom Elliott emerged, having pulled off arguably the biggest local shock of the night.

Unlike five years earlier when three recounts were needed, this time the result was confirmed after a single tally of the ballot papers.

Cheered by euphoric supporters, the newly-elected UUP MP hailed an end to abstentionism in the constituency.

"I will represent the people of Fermanagh/South Tyrone in Westminster, and I will go and fight for the rights of those people," he said.

Mr Elliott's 530-vote majority was a landslide compared to recent results in the UK's most marginal constituency.

It had been held by Michelle Gildernew since 2001, when she won by 53 votes.

Last time her majority was a mere four votes.

Mr Elliott, a farmer from Ballinamallard, had received cross-party unionist backing, but Sinn Fein was favourite to hold the seat.

Soon after the ballot boxes were opened it became clear the contest was closer than many had predicted.

By 4am rumours were sweeping the count centre that Mr Elliott was ahead.

Groups of Sinn Fein activists, jubilant after Pat Doherty's huge victory in West Tyrone, were now glancing anxiously at the tallies.

Then, around 5.10am, after the deputy returning officer refused Sinn Fein requests for a recount, Mr Elliott was confirmed as winner.

In his victory speech he dismissed claims from the Gildernew camp that the seat "belonged" to Bobby Sands.

"This constituency of Fermanagh/South Tyrone, the most westerly constituency in the United Kingdom, is not a green constituency," he added.

"It does not belong to Bobby Sands, it belongs to the people of Fermanagh/South Tyrone and that is who I intend to represent."

Mr Elliott said he had received votes from "right across the community".

Members of Ms Gildernew's family, including one of her sons, were visibly upset as it emerged she was heading for defeat.

Afterwards she said she was "proud and humbled" that so many people had voted for her.

She said there was still big issues in the constituency and she would continue to work for people, adding: "I'm not going anywhere."

SDLP candidate John Coyle finished a distant third, but the 2,732 votes he took proved very costly for Sinn Fein.

Belfast Telegraph

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